Europe News

Keys to the future? How to read EU's Rome declaration

BRUSSELS/ROME (Reuters) - “Europe is our common future,” European Union leaders will declare in Rome on Saturday, in a grand statement of ambition they hope can hold the bloc together following the shock loss of major power Britain.

A man walks past the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on which is displayed a banner celebrating the 60 years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, in Brussels, Belgium March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The declaration will be issued to mark the 60th anniversary of the EU founding treaty.

The latest draft seen by Reuters is 935 words long - far wordier than a 50th birthday text issued in Berlin a decade ago. Nearly 100 words have been added this week, notably to address concerns in ex-communist eastern members about a “multi-speed Europe” and to adjust a balance between calls for economic growth and social welfare guarantees.

Below are extracts from the text, accompanied by a Reuters interpretation. Greece has withheld formal approval of the draft, but diplomats do not expect changes in wording.

“We, the Leaders of 27 Member States... take pride in the achievements of the European Union...”

That “27” in the first line has a poignant significance, the only, indirect, nod to Brexit. There are currently 28 EU members, though that is about to change. Prime Minister Theresa May will not be in Rome and will trigger Britain’s withdrawal process on March 29, four days after the summit.

“... a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare.”

The preamble offers a positive version of the EU’s achievements, which leaders think has been drowned out by nationalisms sweeping the continent. Most Europeans are too young to remember the 20th century wars the founders aimed to consign to history, and many have grown up since the end of the Cold War. The welfare mention has been added this week.

Mention of “rule of law” will remind some of Brussels’ fears of authoritarian tendencies in Hungary and Poland.

“... unprecedented challenges ...”

At Berlin, challenges were just “major”. At Rome, “regional conflicts” are back, in Ukraine and Syria. “Terrorism” is up the agenda, with attacks since 2015 in France, Belgium and Germany. “Migratory pressures” didn’t figure in 2007; in the past two years, over a million people have arrived, dividing EU leaders and prompting talk of an existential crisis. “Protectionism” appears as a threat, now Donald Trump is U.S. president -- in Berlin it was Europe’s ability to compete in global markets that seemed the problem. “Social and economic inequalities” nods to the ravages of the euro zone debt crisis on Greece and other countries, as well as a persistent gulf between eastern and western Europe.

“... make the European Union stronger ... through even greater unity and solidarity ... Taken individually, we would be sidelined by global dynamics. Standing together is our best chance to influence them...”

The message of Rome is “unity”, after British voters opened what many fear is a Pandora’s box of secession. “Solidarity” is a buzzword amid a simmering row over who should take in refugees and who pays the bills for the Union and the euro.

“We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past, in line with the Treaties and keeping the door open to those who want to join later.”

Addresses a row over calls for a “multi-speed Europe” that the eastern, ex-communist members fear could be a way to cut off subsidies and power.

The founding six members and the EU executive think faster integration can deliver the prosperity and security that disillusioned voters want.

“Our Union is undivided and indivisible.”

Rings rather hollow as Brexit becomes real. Risks a hubristic echo of another “unbreakable union” -- the Soviet one, which survived barely a decade beyond its 60th birthday.

“... a Union which remains open to those European countries that respect our values and are committed to promoting them.”

An olive branch to those, notably in the Balkans, who feel the EU is backpedaling on promises of membership.

“A safe and secure Europe ...”

The first of four broad goals set out. At Berlin, borders were “open”; the Rome draft says that is true within the Union, but stresses “our external borders are secured” to prevent a repeat of chaotic irregular immigration.

“A prosperous and sustainable Europe ...”

The euro must be “further strengthened”. The 2007 text said the single currency made Europe strong. A decade of crisis has left its mark.

“A social Europe: a Union which, based on sustainable growth, promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence, while upholding the integrity of the internal market ....”

Among the trickiest areas. Easterners see western insistence on wage and benefit levels as a protectionist bid to keep them from using lower pay to compete and grow in the single market. Greece won mention of “a Union which fights unemployment”.

“A stronger Europe on the global scene ...”

Highlights efforts to bolster EU defense cooperation now that the skeptical British are leaving. But takes pains to say this will be complementary to the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

“... listen and respond to the concerns expressed by our citizens ...”

After Britons voted out, and with anti-EU nationalist Marine Le Pen mounting a strong challenge in France’s presidential election in April and May, listening is the least they can do. The word ‘respond’ was added to the draft this week.

“ together at the level that makes a real difference ... in line with the principle of subsidiarity.”

Some inelegant Eurospeak. But “subsidiarity” - taking decisions at the most local level possible - means getting out of the way of democratically elected national governments, which is very much in the spirit of these Brexit-dominated times.

“We have united for the better. Europe is our common future.”

A signoff that repeats two phrases from 2007: the first from the preamble, the second echoing leaders’ final words in Berlin.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan